Howard’s “The Phoenix on the Sword” introduced Conan to the world in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales and so now that he’s 80, I thought I’d commemorate his birthday with a trip down memory lane and map out some of the high points of my life that were brought about due to my fondness for the mighty Cimmerian.
I first really discovered Howard’s timeless hero when I was about ten, through the Lancer editions, and was even able to make a stop at the Howard abode in Cross Plains back in 1967. This was a highpoint of my reading life—my family never would have made the Cross Plains stop if Conan hadn’t fired my youthful imagination.
In fact I was so fired up that years later I wrote a story about a Conan-like warrior’s melancholy end and mailed it to Jonathan Bacon’s Fantasy Crossroads and even got it accepted, although my literary hopes were dashed when the fanzine went out of business before the tale got published. Howard has inspired quite a few people to write—whether this is a good or bad thing all depends on the opinion of the reader, of course.
But this enthusiasm for Conan (and all things Howard) never left me and in 2007, on the fortieth anniversary of my first journey to Cross Plains I was lucky enough to return, and believe me it was quite the moment when I realized that I was only a few feet away from where my family had parked all those years ago.
Fast forward five years and I’m invited to be on a panel at PulpFest celebrating the Cimmerian’s birthday. That was a pretty big deal for me. I sat, and shared the stage with, Don Herron, Rusty Burke and “Indy” Cavalier—an impressive trio of Conan scholars and that’s a fact.
While it was very cool being part of PulpFest, I think the coolest thing occurred when some younger members of the audience started asking questions. These newer Robert E. Howard fans were not known to any of us, but it was apparent to all of us that these guys were excited. Evidently they had seen the Momoa movie and it had spurred them to search out the talented Texan and read the real Conan stories. So now they were hooked and their lives were beginning to be changed by the Cimmerian too; in short, they, like me forty-six years before, were enthused.
Conan has made it to 80, and judging by what I saw at PulpFest the tough barbarian is going to be around for a long time. PulpFest displayed to me that there are a lot of Howard fanatics out there that we don’t even know about, but I’m willing to bet that as the years go by we’ll be hearing from them. I don’t know if I’ll be alive to celebrate my eightieth birthday, but I’m damn positive that Conan will be here for number 100 and many more. The Cimmerian has trampled many heroes into the dust under his sandaled feet and I feel he will continue to do so—who out there could possibly stop him, or his fans?
This is the second post for 2012 of the online version of Nemedian Dispatches. This feature previously appeared in the print journal and is now on the blog. On a quarterly basis, Nemedian Dispatches will highlight new and upcoming appearances of Howard’s fiction in print, as well as Howard in other types of media.
The Complete Marvel Tales
The publisher of the highly acclaimed complete collection of The Fantasy Fan has just completed his next project — a hardback book that collects the five issue run of William Crawford’s Marvel Tales. Each issue was filled with fantasy from top Weird Tales writers, with Howard’s “The Garden of Fear” appearing in the second issue. Publisher Lance Thingmaker will start shipping pre-orders this week. To order, contact the publisher. The price of the book is $50.00 (includes US postage), but if you mention the TGR Blog, you can save $10.00 and pay only $40.00 (includes US postage). Just like The Fantasy Fan, this volume is sure to be an instant collector’s item.
The Sword & Sorcery Anthology This new anthology is chock full of sword wielding heroes and heroines battling all manner of terrifying denizens and sorcerers written my true fantasy masters. Howard leads off the collection with “The Tower of the Elephant,” followed by the likes of C. L. Moore, Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson, Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner and many more. Published by Tachyon Publications and edited by David. G. Hartwell and Jacob Weisman.
Adventures in Science Fantasy
From the REH Foundation Press comes a collection of Robert E. Howard’s sort of science fiction stories. The centerpiece of this collection is Howard’s interplanetary adventure novel, Almuric, backed up by a dozen or so other science fantasy yarns from Howard’s Underwood. The book features a stunning wraparound cover by Mark Schulz, an introduction by Michal Stackpole and is edited by Rob Roehm.
“Hawk of the Hills”
Now available, a Kindle edition of the El Borak story, “Hawk of the Hills.” This Francis X. Gordon yarn was first published as the cover story in the June 1935 issue of Top-Notch, an adventure pulp magazine.
The 2012 Howard House Museum T-Shirt
Michael L. Peters’ design won this year’s competition for a new t-shirt design for this year’s Howard House Museum t-shirt. In addition to this design, you can see more of Michael work in the upcoming issue of REH: Two-Gun Raconteur. To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the first appearance of Conan, Michael has done a “Rogues in the House” portfolio.
The shirts are available in both black on white and white on black. Sizes run Medium though XXX Large. Price is $15.00 per shirt, plus $3.00 for US shipping and handling. Overseas shipping will be more. To get the rate for overseas shipping, send an e-mail to Project Pride.
Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword #5
Coming August 29, 2012, a new issue of Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword. Contents include: Paul Tobin and Francesco Francavilla team-up to bring Dark Agnes back to the pages of Savage Sword with their adaptation of “Sword Woman”; Steve Niles partners with Christopher Mitten to adapt” In the Forest of Villefère”; Ian Edginton and Richard Pace adapt the Bran Mak Morn yarn “Men of the Shadows” and the legendary Howard Chaykin writes and draws a brand-new King Conan story.
New Books from the REH Foundation Press
As noted in a previous post, at least three volumes of Howard stories are nearing completion and several of them may make it into print by the end of the year Those books include: a Pirate Stories book, Volume I of the Boxing Stories and an Autobiographical book. Of course there are a number of books from the Foundation Press still available.
Skullcrusher: Selected Weird Fiction, Volume One
Coming in September, publication of the first volume of a two-volume collection of classic fantasy stories by REH. The stories in this collection feature all of Howard’s most famous creations — Conan, King Kull, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn — alongside others such as Cormac Mac Art, James Allison, Red Sonya, and Cormac Fitzgeoffrey — in a definitive anthology of sword and sorcery, weird adventure, and occult horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.
Conan Meets the Academy
Scheduled for a Spring/Summer 2013 release, this volume from McFarland & Company, Inc. takes on Howard’s Conan as its only subject. This collection of Conan essays focus on the following topics: stylometry, archeology, cultural studies, folklore studies, and literary history, additionally the essays examine statistical analyses of Howard’s texts, as well as the literary genesis of Conan, later-day parodies, Conan video games, movies, and pop culture in general. By displaying the wide range of academic interest in Conan, this volume reveals the hidden scholarly depth of this seemingly unsophisticated fictional character. The book is edited by Jonas Prida
Another Howard Days has come and gone, and with it the euphoric high that can only come with 72 plus hours of full immersion in something that you have a true passion for, alongside dozens of others who share your passion and are some of the few people that can truly understand it. This was only my third Howard Days and so I don’t have the larger perspective that many others do, but for me this year’s Howard Days was my favorite. It didn’t have the giddy excitement of my first year or movie-infused madness of last year—but those weren’t necessarily bad things. It was more subdued perhaps, but it also created more opportunities to just hang out with friends new and old and geek out with folks who “get it.”
Actually making it to Cross Plains this year was more challenging than usual due some severely nasty weather that had flights delayed or cancelled. Al Harron and the Scottish Invasion were stuck in the airport for hours and Bill “Indy” Cavalier and his wife Cheryl didn’t get into to town until 4:00 in the morning Friday. Several Howard Days regulars, including Damon Sasser, Frank Coffman, and Ryan Flessing, were absent this year for various reasons and were sorely missed. For me the trip to Howard Days was unusual as well, as I am actually in the middle of a three-week long family vacation as I write this. My wife, the kids, and I had driven from Florida to Maine (yes, driven!) and had rented a lake cabin. So for me Howard Days was a vacation from my vacation as I flew down to Texas from Maine, then back to Maine just in time to drive back down to Florida. Sheesh!
Of course the unofficial kick-off for Howard Days is Thursday night with dinner at Humphrey Pete’s. I got in on Thursday afternoon just in time to hitch a ride to Brownwood with Paul Sammon, Russell Andrew, and Al. I got to talk with (and listen to) Paul more this year than in the past and I have to say that he is one of the most knowledgeable and interesting people in Howard fandom. Paul has had many incredible experiences and has a wonderful outlook and perspective on life in general. I could listen to his stories and anecdotes forever. Al of course is my old TC blog comrade and it’s always great to see him as well as his entourage, the Wyrd sisters. There were more familiar faces when we arrived at Humphrey Pete’s of course: Rob Roehm, Dennis McHaney, Barbara Barrett, Ed Chazcyk, Jim Barron, and several others. Mark Finn showed up not long after we did, as well as Jay Zetterberg from Paradox. I believe Keith West and Scott Valeri were there as well, but I didn’t get a chance to speak with them until later.
After dinner we returned to the pavilion, where Rusty Burke was waiting with the guest of honor Charles Hoffman. I was thrilled to meet Chuck and was fortunate enough to room with him this year, which gave me more an opportunity to pick his brain and hear his amazing stories about his experiences in fandom. It was a true pleasure to meet him and visit with him and I very much hope he will make it back for future Howard Days. Other regulars began to show up at the pavilion too, including Dave Hardy, Chris Gruber, Todd Woods, and Tim Arney. This was the first time I got meet Tim and he was a lot of fun and very knowledgeable. The lovely Aurelia also returned to Howard Days (no doubt due to Al’s charming presence rather than the rest of us troglodytes).
Perhaps the most special visitors of all were there as well: Lou Ann Lord and her family. This was, of course, the first Howard Days after Glenn Lord’s passing and that reality was omnipresent throughout the weekend. I expect that this weekend was Lou Ann’s farewell to Howard fandom, and I believe that she will be moving on knowing just how important Glenn was to all of us and to all we do. None of this would have been possible without Glenn and nothing Glenn ever did would have been possible without the patience and support of Lou Ann.
Friday morning kicked off the first official activities of the weekend, including a bus tour of Cross Plains led by Rusty. Fans and visitors were just beginning to show up as I wandered over to the pavilion fueled by multiple cups of coffee and a deliciously greasy breakfast from Jean’s Feed Barn. Indy was there, having safely arrived the day before and other regulars soon began showing up including Paul Herman, Gary Romero, Ben Friberg, Joe Crawford, Alfred Bonnabel, as well as Chris Fulbright and Angie Hawkes with family in tow. I made my way through the Howard House only to discover a significant new addition: Robert’s own books from Howard Payne University. Apparently, HPU has donated the remainder of the Howard library to the museum and that was a wonderful surprise. Many of them are inscribed to Howard (and in one case by Howard) and being able to go through these volumes looking for things like highlighting or notes in the margin will be a scholar’s dream.
Another treat waited at the Cross Plains library as all of the typescripts in their collection were on display. It was wonderful to see things like a typescript with Steve Costigan whited-out and Dennis Dorgan typed over it. There is nothing quite like the experience of seeing these cultural artifacts with your own eyes.
The first panel was a dedication to Glenn Lord and Paul, Barbara, and Rusty did a wonderful job of celebrating Glenn’s life and work. It was incredibly moving, but never depressing, as it was truly a celebration of a wonderful life. It was hard not to tear up when Lou Ann spoke though and I thought it was truly a magnificent thing that she had come here to share with us fans her memories and experiences of her life’s companion.
This year is the 80th anniversary of the first appearance of Conan the Cimmerian in the pages of Weird Tales. “The Phoenix on the Sword” was published in the December 1932 issue of The Unique Magazine, giving birth to both a legend and the genre of sword and sorcery. To help commemorate this milestone, Michael L. Peters has drawn a magnificent four plate portfolio based on “Rogues in the House” for the upcoming issue of TGR. “Rogues” first appeared in the January 1934 issue and was the seventh Conan story published.
Of course readers of TGR are well aware of the talented Mr. Peters’ work. In addition to TGR, Michael’s art has appeared in Heavy Metal Magazine, Caliber, Image, and CFD. He also sells prints of a lot of his illustrations and paintings through his website. Several years ago he was hired by Ferris State University to create a series of pen and ink portraits of their former presidents and he has taught drawing and illustration through a local art gallery. Be sure and visit Michael’s website, which is chock full his artwork, including all the work he has done for TGR and The Chronicler of Cross Plains over the past six years.
Just a few months ago, Michael’s design for the new Howard House Museum t-shirt was selected as the winner of a contest to find a new design sponsored by Project Pride. The t-shirts are now in stock and available for purchase.
This weekend (May 18 – 20), Michael is attending the Motor City Comic Con at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Michigan where he will be selling his art prints and doing sketches at the convention’s “Artist Alley.” So if you are in the greater Detroit area, stop in and say hello.
The first plate of Michael’s “Rogues in the House” portfolio is posted above. You can see the entire portfolio, along with a plethora of Howard fiction, essays, articles, reviews and artwork in the new issue of TGR coming later this summer. Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks.
Six weeks from today the faithful will gather early in the morning outside the Howard House Museum and the adjacent Pavilion in Cross Plans, Texas. While many will wake bleary eyed and hung-over or tired from a long trip, a stop by Jean’s Feed Barn will leave them fortified after a hearty breakfast and ready for Howard Days to begin.
This year’s Guest of Honor is world renowned Howard scholar Charles Hoffman. Charles is best known for a having written the Robert E. Howard: Starmont Reader’s Guide 35 with Marc Cerasini. He and Marc also edited the first two issues of the journal Cromlech, which was the very first periodical publication devoted to serious scholarship and criticism of REH. Additionally, Charles also wrote, “Robert E. Howard: Twentieth-Century Mythmaker” essay for the first volume of The Best of Robert E. Howard and numerous essays for The Dark Man and other Howard journals, not to mention contributions to his blog. Here is an excerpt from Rusty Burke’s post at the REHupa website announcing Charles as this year’s GOH:
Chuck is one of the most formidable essayists in Howard studies. His “Conan the Existentialist,” which appeared in Amra 61 (March 1974), was the opening salvo of what has come to be called “the new criticism” of Howard, criticism that took him seriously as a writer whose work had depth and substance along with the excitement and adventure. Prior to that essay, most Howard “criticism” consisted of book reviews (though some, like those of Schuyler Miller and Fritz Leiber, showed real insight) or introductions by fans who failed to take him seriously (John D. Clark famously proclaiming, “Don’t look for hidden philosophical meanings or intellectual puzzles in these yarns–they aren’t there.”). Chuck showed that Howard could not only provide rousing action, but rewarded closer reading as well. Patrice Louinet says, “‘Conan the Existentialist’ is the essay that made me want to study and write about Howard. It was a pure revelation.”
In addition to Charles, there are two full days chock full of panels, tours, swap meets and the Barbarian Festival. Below is a summary secedule of events:
Howard Days 2012 Summary Schedule
Friday June 8th
8:30 – 9 am: Coffee and donuts at the Pavilion, compliments of Project Pride
9 am – 4 pm: Robert E. Howard House Museum open to the public
9 am – 4 pm: REH Postal Cancellation at Cross Plains Post Office
9 am – 11 am: Bus Tour of Cross Plains
10 am – 5 pm: Cross Plains Public Library open
11:00: PANEL: Glenn Lord Tribute
Noon: Lunch hosted by Project Pride. Donations Welcome.
11:00 am to 4 pm: Pavilion available for REH items Swap Meet
1:00 pm: PANEL: Conan the Existentialist
2:30 pm: PANEL: Conan’s Birthday!
5:30 – 6:30: Silent Auction items available for viewing and bidding at Banquet site
6:30: Robert E. Howard Celebration Banquet and Silent Auction at the Baptist Church Family Life Center. (1 block north of the Library on Main St.)
Following the Banquet and Silent Auction: The Third Annual Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards at the Baptist Church Family Life Center.
9:00 pm PANEL: Fists at the Ice House
Afterward there will be some extemporaneous REH Poetry Reading at the Pavilion dedicated to Glenn Lord.
Saturday June 9th
9 am – 4 pm: Robert E. Howard House Museum open to the public.
9 am – 4 pm: Barbarian Festival held this year at Treadway Park, 3 blocks west of REH House
10 am – 3 pm: Cross Plains Public Library open
10:30 am PANEL: REH at the Gates of Academia
Noon to 4 pm: Pavilion available for REH items Swap Meet
Noon: The Robert E. Howard Foundation Legacy Circle Members Luncheon.
Lunch & Festival Activities at your leisure during the day
2:00 pm PANEL: The Illustrated Conan
3:30 pm PANEL:What’s Up with REH? at the Pavilion
5 pm: Sunset BBQ at the Caddo Peak Ranch
Please Note: The Robert E. Howard House Museum will be open again this year on Thursday (June 7th) from 2-4 pm. No docents on duty.
For a detailed schedule and everything you wanted to know about Howard Days, mosey on over to the REHupa website.
If you can’t make it to Howard Days this year, you can still contribate to the cause. Project Pride needs donations of Howard material for the Silent Auction. Typical donations include books, magazines, old pulps, comics, memorabilia, fanzines or other publications. Other Howard items such as t-shirts, bookmarks, wood carvings, original artwork or limited edition prints or posters are also great items to donate to the auction. Instead of selling your items on eBay, you can donate them to the Silent Auction and know the money will be supporting a worthy cause, plus it counts as a donation, so it’s tax deductible. Please send your donated items to:
P.O. Box 534
Cross Plains, TX 76443
ATTN: Howard Days Silent Auction
Make sure your name and address information is included since all donors are listed in a place of honor in the Howard Days Banquet program booklet.
In 1967 Robert E. Howard was as hot as a Texas Summer. By the end of that year Lancer had published the first four Conan books with the King Kull volume thrown into the mix in September. To this eleven-year old Howard was just about the greatest author that had ever pounded a typewriter, and I convinced my parents to make a detour during our usual summer vacation and we journeyed to Cross Plains where I saw, for the first time, the Howard house, only thirty-one years after he had left it.
It was a great year for me, one of the best in my life, but I wasn’t the only one enjoying the Howard boom—seems that REH was becoming big news on the convention scene also.
Recently I purchased The John W. Campbell Letters: Volume One and was amused to read a letter Campbell had written to Gordon Dickson on September 7th of 1967. Campbell had just returned from a science-fiction convention and was apparently slightly dumbfounded by what he had seen. He states that the “costume parade was full of barbarians and wizards and fantasy—the only science-fiction was the Star Trek set-up.” He continues, amazed, that “It was not a science-fiction convention. It was a fantasy convention throughout!”
He further illustrates this point by adding that “In essence, the swords-and-sorcery”—think Robert E. Howard here—“and Tolkien have displaced science-fiction almost completely.” Undoubtedly Tolkien was a major influence during this time, but Campbell recognized that fans were drooling for fiction either written by Howard or inspired by him. “Now,” he goes on to write, “in as much as it’s the readers who pay for the magazines, it damn well behooves us to give ‘em what they want—and they obviously want super-heroes on the Conan order.”
Campbell, a great editor, controversial thinker, and author of the sci-fi masterpiece “Who Goes There?” knew the times were changing and that science-fiction periodicals were going to have to make adjustments if they wanted to stay current, and he ends his letter stating confidently that they’ll be able to. “And if you can be a sword-wielding hero in fantasy, dammit, you can be a sword-wielding hero in science-fiction. The future is going to have just as desperate a need for heroic leaders as the past ever did!” He’s right of course, Howard is still popular, but, in 1967, he was really kicking some butt.
Please join me in congratulating the winner of the 2012 Howard House Museum T-Shirt Design Contest, frequent TGR contributor Michael L. Peters. I think you will agree with me when I say it is a wonderful design that captures the essence of Howard and his many literary creations. For those of you who may not be familiar with Michael’s work, here is a blurb from his website:
Who is Michael L. Peters? I’ve drawn Comics for such publishers as Heavy MetalMagazine, Caliber, Image, and CFD. I create and sell Prints mostly on mythological and fantasy themes, in pen & ink, watercolor and/or acrylics. A few years ago, I was hired by Ferris State University to create a series of pen and ink portraits of their former presidents. I’ve taught drawing and illustration through a local art gallery, though I don’t have a degree. What I’ve learned about drawing and painting, I’ve learned through my own studies and practice and from following the example of those I respect.
Michael has has done artwork for issues 10 through 15 of TGR and The Chronicler of Cross Plains #2 (four color covers, four portfolios and one full page illustration), and he is currently hard at work on a new portfolio for the upcoming 16th issue of TGR.
As for the t-shirt, it will be screen printed at Salamander Apparel in Cross Plains and held until Howard Days when it will officially go on sale. The color will be in the traditional black and white and sell for $15.00 plus $3.00 shipping.
I know what I’ll be wearing this June.
03/09/2012 Update: You can now pre-order your t-shirts via Project Pride’s PayPal account (ProjPride@yahoo.com), but those orders will not be filled until after Howard Days. The t-shirts will officially go on sale June 8th at the Howard House Museum, so folks that plan on attending will be assured of getting one of the first ones. Just to clarify, the t-shirt will not ship until AFTER Howard Days, so don’t get antsy and starting pestering the nice folks at Project Pride before then.
The shirts will be available in both black on white and white on black, so order both colors – one for daytime wear and one for evening wear. Sizes include Medium though XXX Large. As stated above, the price is $15.00 per shirt, plus $3.00 for US shipping and handling. Obviously, overseas shipping will be more. To get the rate for overseas shipping, send an e-mail to Project Pride.
Well shiver me timbers, matey, if it is not ol’ Two-Gun Bob himself all decked out like the scourge of the Seven Seas! Yes, your eyes do not deceive you – that is a young REH and two neighbors dressed as pirates, specifically Blackbeard, Jean Lafitte and Anny Bonny, who are in fact Howard, Faustine and Leroy Butler, and you are seeing this photo for the very first time. The house in the background is the Butler house, which means that this picture was taken in the Howards’ backyard, probably around 1923 to 1925. As anyone who has been to Cross Plains knows, the house is no longer there. On May 29, 1994, a Magnitude 2 tornado ripped through Cross Plains, destroying eighteen homes, including the Butler house, which was next door to the Howard House Museum. Amazingly, Howard’s home was relatively unscathed, through the roof had to be replaced. The lot is now occupied by the Project Pride Pavilion and Butler Park.
This is only the latest of many finds by Howard scholar and guest TGR blogger Patrice Louinet. As to the origin of this time-lost photograph, here is the lowdown from Patrice himself:
I was rereading some research material I have and stumbled upon a note from an interview with Mrs. Butler conducted by the de Camps at the time they were working on Dark Valley Destiny. Mr. Butler used to be Bob Howard’s neighbor at Cross Plains in his early years. Even before the de Camps asked their first question, Mrs. Butler mentioned that she remembered “seeing a picture of Robert with an old hat on, over in [the Howards'] yard.” She went on to say that “Robert had a bandanna handkerchief tied around his head, and had a belt … big old sword. And they [Howard, Mr. Butler and his sister] weren’t just little boys; they weren’t kids. They were in their teens.” Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Butler hadn’t kept the photos, which had been given to a relative. But I decided to give it a shot. It took me some time, some broadband and some luck in the end, but I was eventually contacted by the son of the relative I was looking for. To say that he was a bit surprized by my request would be an understatement, but he searched for the pictures I described to him and sent me three of them. Yes, three absolutely unknown photographs of Robert E. Howard!
So there are more photos yet to be revealed. The two companion photos, along with this one, will be published in the next issue of The Robert E. Howard Foundation Newsletter. Considering there are only 33 known photos of Howard, the addition of three just increased that total by nearly ten percent. The next issue of the Newsletter is due out next month. If you are not a member of the Foundation, this should give you some incentive to join. There are three levels of membership, with Friend of REH and Legacy Circle members receiving the newsletter as part of their membership.
As for Patrice, he is not resting on his laurels. Aye, there are more treasures buried out there, more discoveries to be made, and the tenacious Frenchman is hot on the trail of of them. So you lubbers have more to look forward to if your scurvy-ridden hides don’t wind up in Davy Jones’ Locker first!
Last evening I was one of a select few to get a sneak preview of the completed Barbarian Days film. Principal photography of the film was done at the 2008 Howard Days; the stars of the film are Rusty Burke as the “Godfather of Howard Days,” Mark Finn as the “Guest of Honor,” Bill Cavalier as the “Boss Dog of REHupa,” Chris Gruber as the “Boxing Stories Expert” and a host of other recognizable Howard Days attendees. But my ugly mug wasn’t among them — I was attending my wife’s family reunion in Mexico and couldn’t make it that year – it is the only Howard Days I’ve missed in the past ten years. For some background on the film, check out this previous blog post. The crew of filmmakers include Damian Horan, director; Grant Gish, writer and executive producer; Scott Thomas Towler, producer; Andrew Pettit co-producer; Adam Watson, cinematographer and Michael Koerbel, cinematographer. Here is the film’s synopsis from the Barbarian Days website:
Most people spend their whole lives searching for what makes them happy. Few find it. Even fewer get the chance to share it with friends.
Every year hundreds of fans flock to tiny Cross Plains, Texas, the home of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. Nearly 80 years after his death by suicide, Howard, an outsider himself, has attracted his own merry band of self-admitted outcast followers.
We followed the Big 4, the top two Howard scholars from the old guard and two up and comers, through their world of fandom at “Howard Days,” the annual celebration of Howard’s life and works.
Despite the cheery air of the celebratory weekend, drama and emotions often run high as Howard fans take their pastime very seriously, often leading to heated arguments and in some cases, brawls. In the end, however, the fans are all gathered for the same reason, to share their passion for Howard and for one weekend a year leave their ordinary lives behind.
The cinematography, editing, lighting, sound, music, etc. are all first rate; this is a very professional film. The director and the rest of the crew deserve a big hat tip from all Howard fans for putting thousands of man hours into the production and editing of this movie – the easy part is the filming, but the real work begins after the last scene is shot. This being an independent film, it has taken a few years to get the funds together to finish it. However, the film crew has worked hard to get it completed and ready for viewing.
The film itself covers a lot of ground, with extensive interviews with the four “stars” and many other Howard Heads. Each has their own story to tell about their connection to Howard and what he means to them and the filmmakers allow ample time for them to make their point. Transitions from scene to scene and topic to topic are very smooth, which follows a logical chronology to the story they are telling.
Obviously, Barbarian Days was produced for a broad market, so some of the content might be common knowledge to the regular suspects who attend Howard Days. But those people are already on the Howard bandwagon – the hope for the film is it may bring new converts to the Texan fictioneer’s fold.
In places Howard Heads do look like and sound a bit like geeks (heck, some of us are), but overall the film portrays the fans and Howard in a favorable light – something many us were worried about. Indeed, the filmmakers take the topic seriously and treat everyone with dignity, especially the Cross Plains townspeople. A segment on the December 2005 fires is included and highlights the devastation the town suffered and the big comeback the citizens made from the near destruction of the town. Inter-cut with the film are scenes from the two Schwarzenegger Conan movies and The Whole Wide World, but they are not just thrown in, but rather interwoven the topic being discussed. Bottom line, if you’ve never been to Howard Days, the film gives you a good feel for what it is like. All of the activities and events are shown from Friday morning’s coffee and doughnuts at the Pavilion through the annual barbecue at the Caddo Peak Ranch. The Barbarian Festival gets some nice coverage as well.
The only scene I would take issue with is an animated one. The animated sequence was used to illustrate the much discussed 2007 confrontation at Howard Days between Chris Gruber and Leo Grin. Since no one would talk about it on camera, not even the instigator (Chris), the filmmakers took some artistic license and used Leo’s own account from the pages of the August 2007 issue of The Cimmerian in Brian Leno’s trip report, “Down the Rabbit Hole.” Situations like this are like a falling out among family members – everyone moves on afterward and what happened stays in the family. Such is the case here.
One thing thing that was particularly compelling is Indy’s voice over statement at the end of the film. He gets the last word with his statement “Robert E. Howard saved my life.”
But Lee Breakiron pops up after the credits and gets upstaged by a group of nearby mooing cows, which renders him speechless.
All in all, it is a great film that keeps you entertained and invested in the story — I recommend it to Howard fans and non-believers as well.
As to where you can view the film, it has made the short list at several festivals at which the filmmakers are hoping to premiere it, but they have not yet been granted full acceptance. If and when they are accepted, the word will come down from them and I will be sure and get the names and dates of the pertinent festival(s) up on this blog.
Other than screening at festivals, which will definitely be a good forum to attract potential distributors, the filmmakers also plan on distributing DVD’s on as a backup plan. The DVD’s will only be available once they’ve either played the film at least one festival, or once they’ve heard back from all festivals regarding their submission status. They would also love to be able to allow for paid streaming of the film online at some point. So keep your fingers crossed and wish these gents much success in their efforts to bring Barbarian Days to the masses.
Due to the passage of time, there are precious few people who are still around that can make the statement that is the title of this post. Norris Chambers is one of those few.
Norris Roe Chambers was born September 6, 1917 to Dr. Solomon Roe Chambers and Martha Jane Williams Chambers on the old Rushing farm about six miles southeast of Cross Cut. His older brother, Thomas Spence Chambers was 20 years older than Norris and his sister, Effie Deoma Chambers was 18 years older. Thomas’ oldest son, Clifton Harold, was only about four months older than his uncle Norris.
Dr. Chambers quit practicing medicine and opened a drug store in Cross Cut where the family lived for several years. It was during this period of time that the Howard lived in Cross cut and Dr. Howard became close friends with Dr. Chambers. The drug store burned and he rebuilt the two story building, but decided to try his hand at farming instead of operating the store. In 1918 the family moved to Galveston County and operated a small vegetable farm. A shipping company in Hitchcock bought and shipped all the vegetables that Dr. Chambers could raise. Tom Chambers and his family also moved to the area and operated a small vegetable farm.
It was in this locale that Norris and Clifton spent their early years. In 1924 the vegetable shipping business closed and Dr. Chambers moved back to the Cross Cut area on the Rushing place. Tom followed soon and opened a service station and garage in Cross Cut. It was after this return to the family homestead that young Norris met Howard for the first time.
Norris and Clifton graduated from the Cross Cut High School in 1935. Norris attended Brantley Draughon College in Fort Worth and later worked for W. Lee O’Daniel Flour Co. He later did oil field work, farmed and operated a country radio repair shop. He also worked for awhile on the WPA.
In 1939 Norris married Ella Sudderth and they lived with his parents on the Rushing farm. When the war preparedness program started in 1940, he worked on the construction of Camp Bowie, an army camp in Brownwood. In 1941 Norris got a job in Civil Service at Duncan Field in San Antonio as a clerk-typist. Because of his electronic experience, he was able to transfer to the shops as an Aircraft Electrician. In 1942 Norris and Ella’s first child was born, Ella Diane. In 1943 they moved to Grand Prairie where he worked for North American Aviation as an aircraft electrician. Their second daughter, Patricia, was born in 1944.
In early 1945 Norris and Clifton joined the U. S. Maritime Service and were sent to Catalina Island, California for basic training. After completion of basic training, Norris was sent to Hoffman Island, New York for training as a ship’s radio operator and further training as a gunner. Norris passed the requirements for radio operator and was issued an FCC radio telegraph license. However, before shipping, overseas the war ended in August and he returned to Cross Cut.
Norris worked for Otis Elevator in Dallas for awhile and opened a radio repair shop in Grand Prairie. He later sold this shop and opened one in Brownwood. In 1947 he accepted a job at Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft in Fort Worth in electronics. Ella and Norris built a house near the plant where they still live. Another daughter, Veronica, was born in 1955 and a son, Roger in 1957 Norris retired from the bomber plant in 1974 and operated a printing shop for several years.
Norris will be turning 94 next month and wife Ella will be 90 in December. I think you’ll agree that the pair have led quite a long and fulfilling life together. Here’s hoping there are many more pleasant years in their future.
I thought it would be interesting and informative to have Norris share his thoughts on Howard with us, so I contacted Norris and he was agreeable to answering some questions about his friend Robert:
TGR: When and where did you meet Robert E. Howard for the first time?
Norris: I spent the first six years of my life in Galveston County and the Howards visited us there. But I can’t say that I really remember Robert during that time.
TGR: What were your first impressions of him?
Norris: We visited the Howards soon after moving to the Cross Cut area in 1924. They lived in the same house in Cross Plains that is now the Robert E. Howard House Museum. I don’t remember any impression, one way or the other, at that time. Three or four years later, when I became interested in reading, he loaned me many books, including Tarzan of the Apes. He treated me well every time we visited and was friendly when they visited us. I liked him.
TGR: Everyone has read that Robert in good physical shape. Did you find this to be true? Did he exercise regularly?
Norris: I believed Robert to be in good physical condition. I think he exercised regularly. I don’t remember him being sick at any time.
TGR: In the past certain people said Robert was a loner and didn’t have many friends. We know today that is not true. Do you recall meeting any of his friends? If so, which ones?
Norris: I did not know Robert’s friends although he did speak of them often. I met his friend Lindsey Tyson whose sister was my school teacher at Cross Cut one year. I did see some of them at Robert’s residence but I never really knew them. Since Robert was considerable older than me, I was not included in his exploits with friends.
TGR: What was a memorable moment during your friendship with him?
Norris: A memorable moment was when he introduced me to several writer’s magazines and let me know that I could make money typing manuscripts for writers. It was at this time that he let me do some typing for him.
TGR: Did you read a lot of his stories — I know you typed some of the Conan tales for him. What did you think of him as a writer?
Norris: I bought some Weird Tales magazines at the used book store and read his stories. Sometimes Dr. Howard brought one by for us. We also got a copy now and then of the Fight Stories. I remember doing some typing on A Gent From Bear Creek. I really liked to read his tales.
TGR: How did you learn of his death?
Norris: My dad and I were working in the north field when an oil field pumper, Bill Bacaum, came and told us the bad news. We went to Cross Plains but there were so many people at the house we didn’t stay long. I believe the funeral was the next day.
TGR: We know the church for the double funerals was packed full. Were there a lot of people at the cemetery as well? Did Doctor Howard or anyone else offer any last words at the graveside?
Norris: I did not go to the cemetery in Brownwood. I never heard it mentioned, but since Brownwood was about forty miles from Cross Plains by the old roads I would guess that not too many attended the graveside service.
TGR: Do you have any recollections of Mrs. Howard? I know she was quite ill, but I guess she had some good days.
Norris: I remember Hester very well. Dr. Howard called her “Heck.” She usually referred to him as the Doctor, or Doc. Mrs. Howard was well liked in the community. A girl in our class was named Hester and she said she was named for Mrs. Howard. My mother liked Mrs. Howard. My parents and the Howards lived “next door” to each other in Cross Cut. This was before I was born. For some reason, Dr. Howard [Baptist] and Hester [Methodist] belonged to different churches in Cross Cut. I posted the church rolls on my Cross Cut website. Also, a picture of my 1935 graduating class.
TGR: I know you spent a lot of time with Doctor Howard after Robert passed away. What was he like?
Norris: I spent a lot of time with Dr. Howard, after the two weeks I stayed with him to help him with Robert’s closure (notifying his friends and correspondents of his death, etc.). He was a little absent-minded. I remember one time we started to Brownwood from our place and he forgot to shift from second gear on the Chevy. I finally brought it to his attention after a few miles. But generally he was very alert, was a good driver, and a very interesting talker. After I married Dr. Howard was very fond of my wife, Ella, and she fixed many meals for him when he would come by after we had dined. He was present the Sunday morning we left for San Antonio for my new job. His remark as we prepared to drive away was, “They’ll never be back.” He was right – it was the beginning of a whole new way of life for us and for many, many others.
In 2007 when Norris came to Howard Days, Leo Grin accompanied him on a tour of the Howard House, while Howard videographer Ben Friberg shot the video below. Watch and listen as Norris reminisces about Robert E. Howard. This is truly a fascinating piece of Howardian history.